CHOICE wine picks

CHOICE's wine experts serve their verdict on the best wines to buy for the festive season.
 
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01 .Winning wines

CHOICE’s experts blind taste-tested 90 white and red varieties priced between $7 and $50, including a selection of members’ recommended drops. Not surprisingly, we found price generally reflects value, although there are some affordable dark horses that surprised even our highly qualified judges.

How we test

CHOICE selects the wine varieties and wines to test based on those most commonly bought at both Allied Liquor Merchants’ and Woolworths’ bottle shops. A number of wines nominated by CHOICE members are also included. We do not include unbranded wines such as cleanskins. The brands we test are concealed from the judges until after the wines are scored and tasting notes written; we use a 20-point scale in which the judges rate the wines on appearance (out of 3), bouquet (out of 7) and palate (out of 10) to provide an overall score. After scoring, the judges compare notes on the wines in each bracket and write tasting notes for the top five. 



Meet the experts

Our thanks to the team of expert wine tasters - especially Phillip Gregory for his help in organising and chairing the taste test - and to the CHOICE members who nominated wines to test.

experts

 

1. Phillip Gregory chaired our taste test and works for specialist importer Pinot NOW. He’s an experienced wine judge with a Master of Wine from the University of Western Sydney.
2. Gavin Lennard is the principal and founder of the Morpeth Wine Academy, which provides wine education and wine tours to individual, trade and corporate clients, as well as technical winemaking and marketing
advice to wine producers.
3. Ben Moechtar is co-owner of and sommelier for Delicado Foods and Delicado Wines, a boutique restaurant, bar and cellar in Sydney. He is also the NSW president of Sommeliers Australia and a wine journalist, educator and speaker.
4. Andrea Pritzker is the catalogue and content manager for Langton’s Wine Auctions. She has a Diploma in Wine Business from the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and is currently taking practical exams for her
Master of Wine qualification.
5. Paul Rogers is a wine lawyer and holds the Australasian Wine Masters Award from the International Wine Academy.

 
 

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Sauvignon blanc is well-known for its bouquet, which can include aromas of freshly cut grass, gooseberries, citrus and melons. The Australian market is dominated by sauvignon blancs from the Marlborough region on New Zealand’s South Island. The top sauvignon blancs selected by our experts had vibrant bouquets, a fruity, complex palate and good length. Arrogant Frog, a French import, rounds out the bottom of our list. Our judges said it had a “reductive pong” as well as an “aluminium aftertaste”. “Sauvignon blanc is the most popular-selling variety in the country, yet there were quite a few wines that were very disappointing,” said judge Andrea Pritzker. “Many showed either a complete lack of concentration or unripe fruit. Considerable amounts of residual sugar were also used to try and disguise this. The best wines showed excellent varietal typicity and great balance.”

sauv_blanc_buy

 

 sauv_blanc

Using the table
The judges use the following scoring system: 18.5 and above: Gold. 17-18.4: Silver. 15.5-16.9: Bronze 14-15.4: Pleasant but undistinguished. 13.9-12.5: Ordinary; dull.

Table notes
*CHOICE member-nominated wines. Prices are based on our price survey carried out in Sydney

On its own, the golden-skinned semillon grape has low acidity and a somewhat oily texture. Blended with sauvignon blanc, its aroma ranges from grassy to citrus. Our judges were pleasantly surprised by the wines that performed well in this bracket, several of which – such as Penfolds Koonunga Hill, Four Sisters and Houghton – cost $15 or less. “This was a much more even bracket, with some very well-made wines in two distinct styles – unoaked or barrel fermented,” said Pritzker. “There were many examples that showed great freshness and length and great drinkability.” Another of our judges, Phillip Gregory, added that “the semillon balances the wines and adds more complexity to the mid-palate and length to the finish. Overall it performed much better than the straight sauvignon bracket; I like these wines and think they would partner a wide range of foods.”

sem_sauv_buys

 

 sem_sauv_table

Using the table
The judges use the following scoring system: 18.5 and above: Gold. 17-18.4: Silver. 15.5-16.9: Bronze 14-15.4: Pleasant but undistinguished. 13.9-12.5: Ordinary; dull.

Table notes
*CHOICE member-nominated wines. Prices are based on our price survey carried out in Sydney liquor stores in October 2010.

Although chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape variety in Australia, its popularity has waned in recent years because of the swell of sauvignon blancs – especially those from New Zealand. Our judges unanimously declared that price generally reflects the quality of chardonnays, although one of our winners, the Goundrey Homestead Unwooded 2009, is a relative bargain at $17. Conversely, the Krinklewood 2008 costs $30 a bottle but fared worse than the Lindemans Bin 65 2009 and Hardys R&R 2009, both of which cost $10 or less. “The top five chardonnays really deliver wines you’d love to drink,” said Gregory. “They offer great  balance of fruit and acidity with good flavours, mouthfeel, finish, length and complexity.”

chardonnay_buys

 

 chardonnay_table

Using the table
The judges use the following scoring system: 18.5 and above: Gold. 17-18.4: Silver. 15.5-16.9: Bronze 14-15.4: Pleasant but undistinguished. 13.9-12.5: Ordinary; dull.

Table notes
*CHOICE member-nominated wines. Prices are based on our price survey carried out in Sydney

Merlot is grown in just about every wine region of Australia; its fleshy, supple mid-palate makes it a good blending component and it is commonly blended with cabernet sauvignon. “Most of the merlot in the selection lacked definition and intensity and were short on the finish,” said Gregory. “The top five had nice aromas and good flavour, but lacked any real complexity.” Pritzker agreed: “This was by far the worst-performing bracket. Many merlots showed overripe cooked, dead fruit notes, or lacked any concentration and length. The best examples had good varietal typicity and balance.” The variation between the top two merlots and the rest were wide indeed, with judges describing the top-rated Taylors Estate 2008 as “juicy” and “mouthfilling” but those that did not score well as “astringent” or “metallic”. One of the judges thought the Cockfighter’s Ghost 2008 – the most expensive merlot on test tasted like “cooked blackberry jam with porty overtones”.

merlot_buys

 

 merlot_table

Using the table
The judges use the following scoring system: 18.5 and above: Gold. 17-18.4: Silver. 15.5-16.9: Bronze 14-15.4: Pleasant but undistinguished. 13.9-12.5: Ordinary; dull.

Table notes
*CHOICE member-nominated wines. Prices are based on our price survey carried out in Sydney

Shiraz constitutes almost a quarter of all wine grape production in Australia and enjoys star status – domestically and internationally – for its finesse, complexity and potential to increase in value with cellaring age. Ripe fruit, a fleshy mid-palate, high acidity and soft tannins can convey both plush and power in a sip. Depending on the climate, the nose and palate can include blackberry, chocolate, mint, eucalyptus, smoked meat, black pepper, liquorice and cloves. In our taste test, shiraz was the strongest performing bracket. Moechtar noted that “there were no cooler-climate shirazes among the winners, indicating consumers still prefer full-bodied ripe reds”.

shiraz_buys

 shiraz_table

Using the table
The judges use the following scoring system: 18.5 and above: Gold. 17-18.4: Silver. 15.5-16.9: Bronze 14-15.4: Pleasant but undistinguished. 13.9-12.5: Ordinary; dull.

Table notes
*CHOICE member-nominated wines. Prices are based on our price survey carried out in Sydney

Cabernet sauvignons are one of CHOICE members’ favourite wines, with their suggested labels, most of which hail from the Coonawarra region in south-eastern SA, performing well in this bracket. Price seemed to correlate with quality, so expect to pay more than $20 for a good cabernet sauvignon. However, the Pepper Tree 2008 ($15) and Jacob’s Creek Reserve 2008 ($18) are solid budget alternatives; our judges believed they need more cellar time to fully develop, but offer an earthy nose and a fruity palate. Cabernet merlots were described by the panel as “disappointing”, much like merlots generally. The only one to rank in the top five was the Vasse Felix Cabernet Merlot 2008. At less than $16 a bottle, the Penfolds Koonunga Hill 2008 is a good quaffing cabernet merlot for a dinner party, with a bold sweet front and lingering mouthfeel.

cab_sauv_buys

 

 cab_blends

 

Using the table
The judges use the following scoring system: 18.5 and above: Gold. 17-18.4: Silver. 15.5-16.9: Bronze 14-15.4: Pleasant but undistinguished. 13.9-12.5: Ordinary; dull.

Table notes
*CHOICE member-nominated wines. Prices are based on our price survey carried out in Sydney
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